Flanked by several Congress MLAs at a rally in Jaipur on Monday, dissident leader Sachin Pilot served notice on Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot — agree to their demands by the month-end or face a state-wide agitation.
The intensification of the Gehlot-Pilot tussle in Rajasthan Congress came on a day when the party’s central leadership struggled to pick between the two CM contenders – Siddaramaiah and D K Shivakumar – in Karnataka after winning the assembly polls there.
The public meeting marked the completion of Pilot’s five-day foot march from Ajmer to Jaipur over “inaction” by the Gehlot government on “corruption” during the previous BJP term in the state.
Apart from a call for a high-level probe into corruption, Pilot spelled out two other demands – disbanding the Rajasthan Public Service Commission (RPSC) and its reconstitution, and compensation for those affected by the cancellation of government recruitment exams after paper leaks.
“If action is not taken by this month-end on these three demands, an agitation will be launched across the state,” the former deputy chief minister said.
The former deputy CM also referred to the one-day fast he held last month.
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“So far, I have done ‘anshan’ and taken out a ‘yatra’. If action is not taken in the interest of the youth on these three demands, I will launch an agitation in the entire state,” he said.
“We will walk on foot with people in villages and hamlets, and get them justice,” he added, as the crowd of several thousand people shouted in support.
Pilot said nothing will cow him down.
“I promise that I will continue to serve the people of Rajasthan till my last breath, even if I remain on any post or not. Nothing can scare me or suppress me. I have fought for you and will continue to do so,” he said.
Pilot said his agitation was not against anyone but against corruption and for the youth. But Gehlot, who became the chief minister after the party ignored his own claim to the post in 2018, was clearly the main target.
At least 14 Congress MLAs, including Rajasthan Forest Minister Hemaram Choudhary, Sainik Kalyan Minister Rajendra Gudha and SC/ST Commission chairman Khiladi Lal Bairwa, were seen on the dais, indicating support for the leader who headed a rebellion against Gehlot in 2020.
Pilot’s office claimed that 28 current and former MLAs attended the rally.
Also seen on the stage were MLAs Deependra Singh Shekhawat, Harish Meena, Giriraj Malinga, Rakesh Pareek, Ramniwas Gawriya, Indraj Gurjar, Virendra Choudhary, Suresh Modi, Vedprakash Solanki, GR Khatana and Mukesh Bhakar.
The pilot camp claimed that the rally was also attended by chairpersons of five boards of the state government, seven Pradesh Congress Committee office bearers, 10 district party presidents and 17 leaders who have contested elections on the party ticket in the past.
The show of strength by Pilot comes just months before the assembly polls when the party hopes to return to power in Rajasthan.
When Pilot announced his fast against corruption last month, the Congress had termed it anti-party activity.
At the Jaipur rally, Pilot also referred to the boycott by CM loyalists of a Congress Legislature Party meeting in September last year, called amid speculation then that Pilot will be made the chief minister and Gehlot the party’s national president.
Pilot said whoever talks about factionalism and betrayal of the party should introspect over their own “betrayal” and the “insult” to party leader Sonia Gandhi last year.
They should think over “whether we or they broke discipline”, he added.
“We remained in public even after being abused and worked for strengthening the organisation, and you are abusing and maligning us after devouring the cream (‘malai’),” he said in an apparent reference to the Gehlot camp. “This will not do,” he added.
He recalled a recent remark by the CM in which he credited BJP leaders Vasundhara Raje and Kailash Meghwal for “saving” his government in 2020 – when Pilot and 18 other Congress MLAs rebelled.
“What kind of policy is this that you malign the image of your own party leaders and praise others,” Pilot asked.
”I have never levelled charges against anyone. I have never said a bad word against anyone. They left no opportunity to abuse me but this does not worry me,” he said, adding that in a democracy, it’s the people’s blessings that count.
Questioning the selection of the RPSC chairman and members, he claimed that it was common knowledge that these appointments were political.
“The appointments need to be done in a transparent manner, and people like scientists and lecturer need to be chosen,” he said.
Many young people attended the rally, wearing T-shirts with the dissident leader’s picture and raising slogans like ”Sachin Pilot, I love you”.
Story first published: Tuesday, May 16, 2023, 0:12 [IST]